New Levels of Understanding Delegate Trina Jackson's Emotional and Political Connections on the Delegation
As a longtime social justice activist, Trina Jackson was aware of the Israel-Palestine conflict and its intersections with race and oppression in America. “Palestine is a big part of our global analysis of linked struggle,” she said. But “I felt compelled to learn for myself.” So she joined Eyewitness Palestine's 2014 African Heritage delegation. “We were not going there to save the Palestinian people, but to witness their struggle, make connections with black liberation struggles here in the U.S. and come back to share with others, especially African Americans, what we saw and learned,” she wrote.
She got a stinging dose of Palestinians’ on-the-ground reality when Israeli forces tear gassed delegates as they toured the separation wall in the village of Bil’in. “I felt burning in my eyes; I felt burning in my throat; I didn’t know what was about to happen,” she recalled. Their guide, Bil’in activist Iyad Burnat, shepherded the delegates away from the tear gas. The incident, she said, “taught us a lot about what Palestinians face on a day to day basis.” Later, in an essay, she reflected on parallels between Palestine and the U.S. civil rights movement. “Collective punishment is familiar to us as African Americans. Tear gas is used against Palestinians the same way high-pressure fire hoses and police dogs were used as violent attacks on peaceful demonstrations of men, women and children alike marching against racial segregation during the civil rights movement,” she wrote.
“We were not going there to save the Palestinian people, but to witness their struggle, make connections with black liberation struggles here in the U.S. and come back to share with others, especially African Americans, what we saw and learned." – Trina
Witnessing the dehumanization of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, she said, brought a “deeper understanding of the levels of oppression waged against Palestinians every day in their lived experiences—around water, land, growing food, sending kids to school.”
The trip also showed Trina the privilege a U.S. passport confers, even on those oppressed here. At the Holot Detention Center where hundreds of African asylum seekers were detained, the detainees were “very happy to see other black people. It was very emotional for all of us,” she said. “As black people from the U.S. we could relate in many ways to their dehumanized status. But it was very different for us. We could leave.”
As someone raised in the Black church, Trina had long thought of Israel in Biblical and religious terms. It was “overwhelming” to visit the Holy Land, to walk in Jesus’s steps in the Old City, to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But at the same time she was witnessing Israel as a political and geographic force. The result? “Cognitive dissonance,” which she embraced. “Rather than shut all this down, I tried to be present with this very split consciousness: my cultural orientation and conditioning versus this new level of understanding.”